Do you know Queen Elizabeth? Well, I don’t either. But she helped me out the other day. I was at a local coffee shop and decided to practice my name-remembering skills.
Me: I’d like a black mango iced tea. (Seriously that’s what I ordered.)
Liz: Okay, anything else?
Me: Oh, no thanks. What’s your name?
Me: My name is Kurt . . . small talk, small talk, Liz, blah, blah, blah Liz. . .
Liz: More small talk etc. blah blah . . .
Me: Okay, thanks. Nice to meet you Liz.
Liz as in lizard?
So I’m feeling pretty good because I made the effort to remember her name. First I asked for her name and made sure I understood it. Then I used her name in conversation a couple of times so it wouldn’t immediately evaporate from my brain.
But now I want to link her name to a memorable image so I can remember it long-term. So I started thinking. Liz as in lizard? She doesn’t look a lizard but I’m not making a documentary. I’m just trying to remember her name.
Or Liz Claiborne? I think that’s a brand of women’s clothing but what do I know. Or how about Queen Elizabeth? I’m sure the Queen has friends that say, “Hey, Liz! How ya doing? Feeling pretty royal today?”
Or how about Queen Elizabeth holding a lizard while buying Liz Claiborne clothing. Really? Which is less likely? The Queen holding a lizard or the Queen shopping at JC Penney.
But it doesn’t really matter whether Liz actually looks like the Queen or where the Queen goes to shop. All that matters is I have created some unusual images related to a name. Now when I see Liz again the crazy images pop in my brain and I remember her name.
Guess what happened next?
A few days later I walked into the same coffee shop and Liz was working again. Then my brain recalled Queen Elizabeth involved in weird actives. So I said, “Hi, Liz! How’s your day going?”
Which brings us to a very common occurrence. If you remember their name often the other person will have that blank look on their face of “rats-I-don’t-remember-this-guy’s-name.” While you have been getting better at remembering names, other people might still need to work on their own skills.
And Liz had that expression on her face. She waits on a million customers and probably doesn’t pay attention to everyone’s name. So I told her my name again and how I have trouble remembering names too etc. etc. I didn’t mention the part about the lizard or Liz Claiborne.
What if they don’t remember your name?
So if you sense the other person is struggling to remember your name, you can always ignore it, smile and go on with the conversation. Not the biggest problem in the world. After all we’re not trying to do open heart surgery we’re just having a conversation. If someone makes a mistake, so what? You can still have a great conversation even if one of you blanks on a name.
Or you can volunteer your name again and say, “By the way, my name is Ezekiel.” That is if your name really is Ezekiel. Otherwise just use your actual name.
Or you can say you usually have trouble remember names and you have some techniques that help. So if there’s a flattering connection, such as remembering someone’s name because they look like a famous movie star, you could mention that. Of course if you have the image of a reptile in your head, it’s better to just smile and keep talking.
Sam, Carl and other people
Here’s a list of the people I’ve met in past couple of weeks and some images that help me remember their names.
Sam – her name is short for Samantha and she works at the same coffee shop as Liz. So I associate her name with Sam, the bartender from the sitcom, “Cheers.”
Carl – a neighbor and he reminds me of my grade school basketball coach who had the same name.
Monica – her name is short for harmonica. Not that she plays one but in my imagination she can. Maybe she plays one while living in Santa Monica?
Jacqueline – For some reason, Jackie Chan came to mind. A form of racial profiling? Possibly. So sue me.
Maeve – an Irish name that’s pronounced like, “Mave.” I think of Maeve the Maven.
Brianna – we work out at the same gym but I ran into her at a local market. So now I imagine her going to the market to shop for brie. Or both Brianna and Rihanna shopping for brie?
Vanessa – I think of her driving a van with a huge “V” painted on the side.
Newport Beach, California
I’ve always had trouble remembering the name of the author (Cal Newport) who wrote the book Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I want to tell people about it but I end up saying, “I read this really interesting book by . . . uh, what’s his name.” Not the most inspiring recommendation, is it? It’s such a good book and I can’t remember the guy’s name? And I end up looking like a goof. Who wants that?
As it happens I live in San Diego which is not too far from Newport Beach, California. So I remember the author’s name by thinking of Newport and “Cal,” abbreviation for California. I can’t explain it but it works for me.
Practice, practice, practice
For some skills, practicing is often thought of as boring and tedious. But the practice involved in remembering names? Not boring at all and it’s actually kind of fun. And you get to meet new people and even make their day better when you remember their name. After all, who doesn’t like to have their name remembered?
Do you use any special techniques to help remember names?
photo credit: bbc.co.uk